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Michigan, Mississippi hold contests, while GOP voters also cast ballots in Idaho and Hawaii

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Concord, N.C., Monday, March 7, 2016. Credit: AP / Gerry Broome

Republican voters go the polls in four states Tuesday, as Donald Trump’s rivals scramble to become the viable alternative to the New York developer.

Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho and Hawaii hold GOP contests. Michigan and Mississippi also conduct Democratic contests where frontrunner Hillary Clinton is projected to easily defeat Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

To derail Trump’s path to the Republican nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich might first have do well enough to force one of them out of the race.

Trump has won 12 of the 20 states that have had GOP contests to date. He enjoys a substantial lead in the polls in Michigan and Mississippi, though Cruz has a steady bloc of support and Kasich has shown signs of gaining in the former. Kasich hasn’t won a state yet but is hoping to emerge as the primaries move to the Midwest — including his home state — next week. That makes Michigan perhaps more crucial for him than others.

“Every candidate needs a path to the nomination. For Kasich, he’s got to win Ohio and how do you that? You’ve got to do well in Michigan,” said John Clark, chairman of the political science department at Western Michigan University. “For other candidates, if they can knock Kasich out in Michigan, it opens up a lot of potential.”

Trump also leads in Mississippi — a phenomena that might have seemed unlikely six months ago, noted Rob Mellen Jr., a political scientist at Mississippi State University.

“Trump has done better in the South than many expected,” Mellen said. “Ted Cruz hasn’t done as well as many anticipated.”

Mississippi, Mellen said, “looks like Trump’s state to lose.” Kasich has the endorsements of most the state’s GOP establishment, though it’s not clear how much that will help, Mellen added. Cruz is banking on support from evangelicals and “constitutional conservatives,” Mellen said.

Cruz has won six states. And last Saturday, his last-minute surge in Louisiana and Kentucky made those races closer than expected. That’s fueled talk that he eventually could be the one Trump opponent left standing.

Rubio has won twice so far, but if he fails to win any state Tuesday, it could further perceptions that he has lost steam. He is counting on winning his home state next week, but Florida polls show Trump with a big lead.

To date, Trump has 384 delegates, Cruz 300, Rubio 151 and Kasich 37.

On the Democrats’ side, Clinton leads by more than 20 points in Michigan and by more than 30 in Mississippi.

“I would be surprised if Hillary Clinton doesn’t score a big win here,” Mellen said.

All told, she has 1,130 delegates to Sanders’ 499, according to The Associated Press.

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